Humility, Listening and Connectedness: Building Partner Relationships that Drive Equitable Practice

  • By Maria Azuri, September 24, 2021

It seems like just about everything has changed in a brief period of time, from our personal and family lives, to the world of work and the social systems that we move within and with whom we constantly exchange. Awareness of our interdependence is perhaps more striking than ever before. What has not changed, however, and has become only more salient to our individual and collective wellbeing is the centrality of values.

In re-affirming the case for the importance of values within philanthropy, I’m calling special attention to the values of humility, connectedness and relationships – how these values lead the path to radical inclusion – and the role that centering equity and proximity have in shaping just about everything – including philanthropic practice.

With the impact that Covid-19 has had on philanthropy, both in short-term support and long-term impact, centering equity and micro-actions are critical to strengthening the structures and the impact of philanthropic approaches. Like every other system, philanthropy has been called upon to reform and ‘to do things differently’ to achieve authentic, transformational change.

In this calling, foundations are being implored to center connectedness and interdependence in realizing their power and privilege to intentionally support transformation that is community-driven, centers equity, and deliberately includes the voices of those most proximate to the challenges we’re aiming to solve.

The ‘we’ must include the ‘all’ of community.

Ensuring that grantees, practitioners and the breadth of community residents that funders operate within have an equitable seat at the table is essential in the set-up of transformational change. This level of change begs for, and demands, diverse and radical inclusion. When we rewind the steps that arrive at radical inclusion, we find that it was humility, listening and connectedness that paved the way.

Transformational Change Lives Within Micro-Actions

Philanthropy can begin to achieve transformational change by seeking out and including diverse practitioners who’ve been at the foreground of ushering and leading community-centered change. Communities’ and grantees’ voices remain vastly under-heard and excluded when they are vital to the process, the solutions, and the growth forward.

With directed expertise working within a kaleidoscope of lenses with individuals who live in communities constantly impacted by systems that largely exclude them, it is imperative that community-based practitioners are included in the grantmaking strategies and supports as essential conduits in transformation.

Transformational change is rooted in equitable, relational practice. Equitable practice is achieved by intentionally and relentlessly focusing on scaffolding micro-steps centered in values. Transformation comes about in the small actions that embody our values and our commitment to connectedness in relationship with community, with those who are proximate to…

Humility, listening, and connectedness build the relationships with partners that drive equitable practice.

We cannot continue to short-change the tremendous power of relationship building, listening and connectedness in driving our philanthropic approaches – from grantmaking processes through to hiring more diverse and connected staff – by not leading with humility.

Community-centered and community-included change lives within micro actions of listening and connecting with new ways of ‘doing things.’ This is where greater and stronger inclusion of diverse practitioners comes in.

As an immigrant and licensed, bilingual, community-based social worker for over 22 years, I’ve had the privilege to work with a wide range of clients and issues areas, from individuals to the systems that shape them, including philanthropy. I’ve seen, time and again, how micro-actions scaffold learning new things, unlearning harmful practices, and that getting to the building of lasting positive growth begins with inclusion and micro steps.

Growing up in an immigrant family, listening, humility, connectedness and building new relationships are at the core of who we are. We know what it feels like to be an outsider, to learn and unlearn, to not be listened to, to be an ill-considered voice and perspective. We know the power of practitioners and that scaffolding micro-steps builds change, and that inclusion is key. Everyone wants to be included in the quest for transformation, and philanthropy must include the practitioners that have been at the forefront of ushering local change.

Philanthropy is at an important inflection point bridging values to practice. Through the 20+ years of individual- and community practice, and the breadth of available research (clinical, evaluation- and philanthropic), what’s clear is that the quest for ‘big’ change must be fundamentally rooted and cemented in establishing trust by listening intentionally, showing up with humility, being connected to and with the individuals and spaces that are most affected by the challenges and including the practitioners and advocates who’ve long been working on the ground.

Can philanthropy, in its quest for ‘big’ changes, call upon the humility, listening and connectedness that drive equitable practice? I believe the answer is yes.

Maria Azuri

Senior Program Director, Impact & Sustainability

Maria is the Sr. Program Director of Impact & Sustainability at Network for Good and is a subject matter expert in nonprofit organizational excellence and intersecting social work/community-based organizational practice. She brings over 20 years of recognized expertise in organizational development, program effectiveness, capacity building, content development, and leadership, along with deep philanthropic partnerships and multi-partner initiatives. Maria has created and led programming within diverse social issues ranging from mental and public health, education, criminal justice, immigration, and social entrepreneurship. She is an expert in increasing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) within organizations, boards, and in diverse capacity building initiatives. She is also an adjunct instructor at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, where she teaches grantwriting/fundraising at the graduate level, and also teaches multicultural communications, competency, and social justice at the School of Social Work.